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Dogss and jackals

Two Dogs and Jackals boards

The ancient board game of Dogs and Jackals also called 58 Holes, Hounds and Jackals, the Monkey Race, the Shield Game or the Palm Tree Game, all of which refer to the shape of the game-board or the shape of the pins. The game consists of a board with a track of fifty-eight holes (and a few grooves) in which players race a pair of pegs along the route. It is thought to have been invented in Egypt about 2200 BC, and flourished during the Middle Kingdom but died out in Egypt after that, about 1650 BC. About the end of the 3rd millennium BC, Dogs and Jackals spread into Mesopotamia and maintained its popularity there until well into the first millennium BC.  

Hounds and jackals

Hounds and Jackals

Because of the element of luck in the game, it was believed that a successful player was under the protection of the Gods. Some texts reference the deceased playing Dogs and Jackals against an 'invisible opponent (thought to be his Ka), in order to reach the ' safely. Consequently, the game was often placed in the grave alongside other useful objects for the dangerous journey through the Duat. From a funerary text from the 12th Dynasty: "My game pieces are made to endure in the embalming chamber. I have full complement throughout the embalming chamber. My seven pieces are indeed winners. My fingers are like the jackals who tow the solar barque. . . I grasp my opponent's pieces and pitch him into the water, so that he drowns together with his pieces."

Playing the Dogs and Jackals[]

Dogs and jackals

The Dogs and Jackals most closely resembles the modern children's game known as "Snakes and Ladders" or "Chutes and Ladders".

Dog jackal pin

A Jackal pin from the game: Dogs and Jackals

Each player had five pegs, and they began at the starting point (marked in red on the schematic) and traveled down the center of the board and then up their respective sides to the end points (marked in green). The yellow lines in the schematic are the "chutes" or "ladders", allowing the player to quickly advance or quickly retreat.

Ancient boards are generally rectangular to oval, and sometimes shield or violin-shaped. The two players throw dice, sticks or knucklebones to determine the number of places they can move, which are marked in the game by elongated pegs or pins. The "Dogs and Jackals" name comes from the heads of playing pins found in Egyptian sites, one in the shape of a dog, the other in that of a jackal. Other forms known archaeologically include monkey and bulls: the surviving pegs were made of bronze, gold, silver or ivory, although it is likely that many more were of perishable wood.

Cultural Transmission of the Game[]

Dogs and jackalss

A version of Hounds and Jackals spread into the near east shortly after its invention, including Palestine, Assyria, Anatolia, Babylonia and Persia. Archaeological boards have been found in the ruins of Old Assyrian merchant colonies in Central Anatolia by the 19th-18th centuries BC. These are thought to have been brought by Assyrian merchants, who also brought writing and cylinder seals from Mesopotamia into Anatolia.  

Other possible trade contacts exist, along an overland route (which would later become the Royal Road of the Achaemenids). Maritime connections would also have facilitated international trade. 

A statistical investigation of Dogs and Jackals game boards (de Voogt, Dunn-Vaturi and Eerkens 2013) revealed that clear evidence demonstrates that the Dogs and Jackals game was traded throughout the Mediterranean region and beyond. With such a widespread distribution, it would be expected that a considerable amount of local variation would exist, that the different cultures, some of which were enemies of the Egyptians at the time, would adapt and create new imagery for the game. Certainly, other artifact types are adapted and changed for use in local communities. But the Dogs and Jackals game boards, like the 20 Squares game boards, maintained their general shapes, styles, rules and iconography no matter where they were played.


This is unusual, because other games, such as chess, were widely and freely adapted by the cultures that adopted them. De Voogt et al. argue that the consistency of form and iconography may be a result of the complexity of the board: chess, for example, has a simple board of sixty-four squares, with the movement of the pieces dependent on largely unwritten (at the time) rules, while game play for both Dogs and Jackals and 20 Squares depends strictly on the board layout. The discussion of cultural transmission of game boards in general is currently of considerable scholarly research.

Archaeological Evidence[]

At least 68 boards have been found archaeologically, including examples from from Iraq (Ur, Uruk, Sippar, Nippur, Nineveh, Ashur, Babylon , Nuzi), Syria (Ras el-Ain, Tell Ajlun, Khafaje), Iran (Tappeh Sialk, Susa, Luristan), Israel (Tel Beth Shean, Megiddo,


Gezer), Turkey (Boghazkoy, Kultepe, Karalhuyuk, Acemhuyuk), Egypt (Buhen, Thebes, El-Lahun, Sedment).